Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Treading Water

This is a difficult post for me to write.

I don't want this to be a "times are tough" blog post. Particularly because I write so rarely right now and the few people who do still visit deserve more than another story about somebody having a hard time with life. But I need to get this out.

It's hard for me to sit back, look at the challenges in my life and realize that the hurdles I face would be much, much smaller if I put in more effort. As I approach my 30th birthday with both excitement and trepidation, I'm becoming more and more aware of the things I want out of life. Goals and dreams that seem so simple, but feel so out of reach right now: a house, children, a permanent teaching job, even the wedding 18 months from now. Lately it seems like the only thing holding me back is me.

I look at my friends living in their own houses, going on vacations, shopping whenever they feel like they need new clothes, going out for dinners and movies, and I'm jealous. We are just barely surviving financially and wouldn't be surviving at all if it weren't for regular help from my parents. Yep, I'm almost 30 years old and I still can't pay all of my bills. Not exactly something that makes a person proud. The majority of our money goes to bills, rent, and groceries. We have no money saved in case something happens, and while it's easy to suggest living "within our means", we honestly don't have any extra money to spare unless we start eating from cans every other day. I refuse to spend money on processed, canned or frozen foods that have no nutritional value and are only good because they're cheap.

We can't afford to get sick because missing work means missed pay. We don't have health benefits, I have no life insurance, and we still owe thousands in loans from school and living in England.

I'm on a supply teaching list but have only worked 8 times since the beginning of the school year. Partly because teachers are still allowed to work after retirement for up to 3 years, meaning they get dibs on many, many jobs because they have contacts all over the city. Even though they are collecting a pension, they still choose to work while people like me pray for even just a few jobs a month. It's incredibly unfair. I'm absolutely disgusted by these baby boomers right now. I don't give a damn that the economy has gone to hell or that you might not have saved up enough money for your retirement. I don't care if you miss teaching. It's absolutely WRONG for you to take jobs and money away from a generation of people who are desperately trying to start their own careers. Selfish and short-sighted and wrong. If you miss teaching, go volunteer somewhere. If you don't have enough money, then don't take that cruise or live in Florida for the winter. You get one of the best pensions in the world and have no right to collect a paycheck on top of it. I'm so angry and frustrated when I hear that every day there are supply teachers in schools here, but most of them are retirees. A coworker of mine told me that at the school she was in today, all 9 of the supply teachers were retired. And while new graduates are denied even getting on the list, they turn a blind eye because they need to pay for their trips and other expenses. I know this sounds harsh, but I fail to see any motive behind working after retirement like this when they collect such an amazing pension. If you know a retired teacher still working, please tell them it's our turn now!

By the time somebody like me gets a contract position, they're in their late 20s or early 30s. And most of them go on maternity leave within the first year because they had to wait to get a contract job before they would afford to have a baby.

In order to even get to long term assignments and contract jobs, you have to work a certain number to days. I'm not even halfway there. For that, I'm absolutely furious. Both with the circumstances holding me back and with myself. Cause I'm sure there's got to be something more that I can be doing. Sure, I can go and print out more business cards and bring them into the schools where they will sit with no less than 50-200 other cards in hopes a teacher will notice and make that phone call. I haven't gotten to many schools and am going to have to get out there immediately. The problem is, I don't believe in this process. Teachers can call whoever they want to fill in when they're away. So unless they love my card or know who I am, why would they call me? I'm one of hundreds. How do I get my name and face out there so teachers will remember me and want me to teach their classes? How do I get aggressive and force my way into schools to shake hands and hand out cards without pissing off a principal or the teachers who are trying to get work done?

I feel like I'm stuck here. The options available to me don't feel promising, which might explain why it's been so damn hard to get out there. But as a lifelong procrastinator, there's a voice inside my head saying "just get off your ass and get out there!" Even as I write this, I wonder if not handing out as many cards has cost me work. It's hard to imagine this being true, but I'm at a loss of what to do. Usually problem-solving is easier for me. There's nothing I want more than to teach right now but I don't know how to find a creative way to stand out from the crowd.

Jeremy once commented that everything in life seems to come easily for me. I was good in school without really having to work (until 4th year university and teacher's college), have been promoted or hired to do jobs I really wanted, and seem to be able to accomplish most goals I set for myself.

The problem with this is I think it's made me lazy. Instead of getting anywhere, I feel like I'm standing still. This problem applies to me trying to lose weight as well. I worked really hard for a little while and lost almost 30 pounds. It was great. Then I got lazy. Stopped walking every day and had the treats I'd been denying myself once in awhile. Started eating snacks at night every once in awhile. Started picking up the bad habits again. And slowly the weight started coming back. It made me crazy enough to work to maintain the weight loss. But not to try hard enough to lose more and reach my weight goals. And I don't know why.

I don't feel the motivation and energy I should right now. I'm young, relatively healthy, have a wonderful group of friends and family, an amazing fiance who supports me no matter what, and two jobs I absolutely love. There are plenty of great things to look forward to and tons of happy memories behind me. I'm smart and creative and know how to work hard.

But I sit here with an extra 25 pounds on my body, a bank account in the minus column, and 12 more teaching days to log just so I can apply for long-term jobs.

It's like I'm in the middle of a lake, treading water - just barely keeping my head above the surface, getting tired and frustrated, but not really going anywhere. How much time do I have before I sink?

I need to start swimming again.

p.s. I was given an award last week by Sully (apparently because he thought I was too nice to ignore it). It's not been forgotten - I'm in the middle of writing a response post and passing the award to more people who I think will be too nice to ignore it. Hope to have it finished soon!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Keeping Warm

Today was a pretty good day.

I taught an hour science program to a group of grade ones then went to visit my best friend and her adorable sons. Her mom was visiting from up north, which was an added bonus because we don't get to visit very often. The afternoon was spent playing and chatting over coffee and cake, watching the boys stare at Toy Story on TV and talking about the wedding. (Apparently this is going to be a main topic of conversation with me for a looong time)

I drove home for dinner and ended up picking Jeremy up on his way home from work. When we walked in the door, we noticed right away that it was pretty cold in the kitchen. And the tile floor felt like ice. Walking further into the apartment, is became obvious that the furnace had been off for several hours.

After checking the heater, we called the landlord, who immediately called his contact for heating. It seemed like things were going to be taken care off pretty fast when we received a call from a repairman within a half hour of calling our landlord. Unfortunately, the repairman didn't have the replacement part required to fix our heater and after several calls told us we'd have no heat until the morning.

Jeremy: So what are we supposed to do for heat?

Repairman: Put on some extra sweaters.

What a nice guy, huh!

After another call to the landlord, who was pretty angry that this was happening, we realized it would be morning before there would be any heat. So I started making phone calls...

There aren't a lot of numbers in my cell phone's contact list, but every one of them can be counted on if we need them. And every one of them offered to help, some by calling people they knew to find space heaters, others offering a warm bed for the night, and others offering what they had without hesitation. One of my friends unplugged her portable radiator, used daily to warm the rec room in the basement of her house and said they'd be fine without it for a day.

And those were just the people I called tonight. There are several more who I'm sure would have offered to help if we asked.

Interestingly, neither the upper or lower apartment residents seem to have located heaters for themselves. We had an extra one and lent it to the people upstairs, whose place is usually at least 4 degrees colder than ours. If there'd been another, we would have brought it downstairs. But I can't help but wonder why they couldn't find their own. Didn't they have anybody to call? Or did their friends and family just not have heaters to lend?

Just a little thing really - one night without heat. But it made me realize just how lucky we are.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Ugly News

So far, 2009 has been all about the TV. We finally got cable after Christmas after three years without any TV at all. After months and months of depending on random TV episodes streamed from internet sites or YouTube and msnbc videos, I'm lost in a world of sitcoms, news, reality TV (The Biggest Loser is AMAZING) and random other shows.

It's been great being able to watch How I Met Your Mother, Two and a Half Men, The Office, Desperate Housewives and other shows each week rather than being forced to wait until they are available online. Just as I've gotten used to this, there's an announcement that one of my favourite shows, Ugly Betty, is on ABC's chopping block.

Apparently the network's plan is to stop airing the show at the end of March so they can show repeats of a show called Samantha, Who? (who indeed? has anybody ever heard of this show?) and a new sitcom called Motherhood. This decision is apparently supposed to help them compete with Amy Poehler's new show on NBC.

So instead of keeping with a wonderfully cast, written, and acted show with a solid fanbase, the network is putting it on hold.

I know that Ugly Betty isn't for everybody. It's quirky and weird and overly dramatic. The storylines aren't always realistic and their world is a colourful charicature of the real one. But it's always fun to watch. I've cried and laughed along with these stories and love following each of the main characters. At first, I thought the bottom line of this show was the message about beauty being on the inside (hence the show's title). After watching a few episodes, it was pretty clear that there is so much more. There are lots of layers in this show, from the superficial to the philosphical. Even the After-School Special Moments (usually featuring Betty and her family) are entertaining to watch.

One of the characters is a young boy, Justin, (Betty's nephew) who is obviously gay but doesn't seem to have come to terms with it. One of the recent episodes had a storyline about him and a guy he thought was a really close friend. He was just being himself, inviting his buddy to plays and talking about the theatre. The friend had a really hard time hanging out with Justin, but soon decided to ditch him when his jock pals made fun of him. The direction of this sub-plot was pretty obvious, yet brilliant acting made it heartbreaking to watch. Justin doesn't seem to understand how other people see him...

It's little sub-plots like this that keep me watching every week.

This show is not just about an unattractive girl trying to fit in. The other characters have a genuine affection for her. And as the seasons have rolled past, it's become less about her looks and more about the girl herself. The writers have developed a character that is both sweet and annoying, nerdy but clever, ugly but somehow beautiful.

I hope ABC does the right thing and re-considers this decision. If they drop Ugly Betty, I will be the first one to catch Amy Poehler and company on NBC.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Cake

I was watching Wedding SOS on TLC tonight. It was totally cheesy, but somehow hilarious: somebody accidentally destroyed the cake!

So it got me to day dreaming about the kind of cake we'll have at our wedding. I was in the middle of imagining this pretty little cake when I started wonder what it would be like if the cake got destroyed at our wedding.

Honestly, if it happens to us, there's literally nothing we can do. Pelee Island is not the place you go to for fancy cakes. So I think we'd take just have to take some pictures with the wrecked cake. Those pictures would be pretty funny.

I wonder if I'll still think they would be funny when it's a week before the wedding...

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Song of the Year

I’m always tempted to write New Year’s Eve posts with quotes from old songs. Maybe because music has always been such an essential part of my life. Or maybe because there are lots of people out there who can write about how I’m feeling better than I can.

When I was in high school, every year on New Year’s Eve, our friends would choose the Song of the Year, meant to help us remember the last 12 months. When we parted ways, as people tend to do, we stopped this tradition. I miss it though, and every year wonder which song would remind me of the year gone by when I hear it 5 or 10 years from now.

It seems like life has sped up this year. I felt like there was never enough time. Maybe this is what it’s like when you get older – everybody is busy running around with their families and work. You want to sit on porches with a beer or have tea with your friends, but suddenly everything has to be scheduled a week in advance. Or re-scheduled over and over until a month has gone by and you’re wondering what happened to your social life.

Working two jobs has been a blessing and a curse. I’ve had a little more money to do things with friends, but no time to get together with them. As the years spin by, I realize that the life I used to know is gone, and while I look forward to getting married and building my own family, I sometimes miss the way it used to be. Then I go out to the bar and remember why I'm happy with the life I have now. The friends I have who are still single and childless spend their weekends getting drunk in bars or house parties, posting crazy pictures on Facebook, and reliving the drama of high school or college. So we’re kind of in a limbo, Jeremy and I, caught between people who have Grown Up, and those who are still clinging to childhood.

So maybe, this is a good song for 2008:

Or maybe it’s something else…

This year my relationship changed from the “boyfriend/girlfriend” feeling it always had into an acceptance that this other person really loves me, all of me, despite the crazy pain in the ass I can be, and will always be there. Even more mind-blowing is that he WANTS to be.

When you’re dating somebody, there is a lot of uncertainty about where the relationship is going. You wonder if this person is The One, how long you’ll be together, how much they care about you, how much you are about them. You have days where you worry about breaking up, and fight about stupid things that mask the real issues that you’re too scared to ask questions about. Because you’re not ready for the answers yet. Despite being in a couple, part of you wonder what it would be like to date another person (even though you would never cheat, you still wonder). Because you’re not ready for the commitment yet. You want your romance to be like the movies, and expect Valentine’s Day and anniversaries with roses and sappy cards. Because you don’t understand that those things have nothing to do with real love yet.

So maybe, this is a good song for 2008;

Even if it doesn’t remind me of this year, this song will be special, since it’s at the top of our current list of possible First Dance wedding songs.

2008 was a great year for music to dance to, especially hip-hop, which I’ve loved a long time (blame living across the river from Detroit for a year). Kanye West and Beyonce released albums that are incredible, and there were so many singles that made me turn up the radio and roll down the window, it’s hard to pick just one. So here's one of the many I danced to in 2008 and look forward to hearing again in 2009...

This song will forever remind me to dancing down Richmond Street singing "Shawty got them applebottom jeans, boots with the furrrr" after a night of dancing with the girls.

This year I added a new song to my All-Time Favourites List, which I’ve already posted up on my blog: “I’m Yours”, by Jason Mraz. I love this song the same way I love “Drive”, by Incubus, “I’m Gonna Be” by the Proclaimers, and “For the Longest Time” by Billy Joel.

Since I’ve already posted it, here is a fantastic video, and another runner-up for a first dance song, by Jason Mraz and Colbie Callait. It’s called “Lucky” and would have been even more perfect if we’d gotten married right after I moved home from England.

(sorry there's no video, but the ones with a real video had embedding disabled)

Often, a Song of the Year was chosen because it represented a major moment in our lives. This year, that song is “Forever” by Chris Brown. Not for the lyrics or the music, but for the memory it represents…

The sun was sitting in the sky at that angle where everything is lit in golds and reds. The air smelled sweet, and birds sang in the trees as people walked together in the early summer evening. I didn’t notice any of it though. I drove through the streets in a daze, quickly and carefully trying to get through traffic without causing an accident.

The phone call had come in about 15 minutes earlier. Though it was expected, it sent me running through the apartment with my heart thumping. The news that it was almost time to meet my new little nephew was long-awaited, and the honour of being asked to wait at the hospital was not lost on me.

As I drove up Richmond street towards the hospital where my best friend laboured through the beginning stages of what we hoped would be an uneventful childbirth, I caught the beginning of “Forever” by Chris Brown on the radio. Turning up the radio, I looked out at the world around the hospital, hoping to always remember the kind of day it was when Oliver was born.

It was a beautiful day.

* click here for the song. None of the actual videos would allow embedding *

So I guess I don’t really have just one song for 2008.There are simply too many to choose from. And if I want to get philosophical, this means I spent a lot of time smiling and singing, with my hair blowing in the wind as I drove to where I was going. Just enjoying the moment.

Maybe that’s why we loved picking the Song of the Year so much – it was never a sad song. We chose to remember the good ones.

Happy New Year world!

May 2009 bring you many happy memories. And some good music to sing along to.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Another year come and gone

Christmas was wonderful. So great that I forgot about pulling out my camera because I was so busy enjoying our families. We played cards, drank good wine, had delicious meals, lots of laughter, and made some more great memories. Jeremy and I were ridiculously spoiled this year, yet again. I can't wait until the day we can spoil them back! We baked cookies and other goodies for everybody as our gift this year, something that was necessary due to finances, but ended up being lot of fun.

Unfortunately, the sinus cold I've been fighting for the past few weeks didn't go away, so I'm on a second round of antibiotics. These ones have left me pajama-clad all day long, sleepy and lazy amidst a pile of Christmas bags and assorted items still not put away after the holidays. It's frustrating having such a messy house, but I'm too wiped out to clean right now.

On a brighter note, tomorrow is New Year's Eve, one of my favourite times of year. 2008 has been both good and bad to us (and the world), and I'm hopeful that things will settle down next year a little...

In the spirit of trying to be a good little blogger, I'm going to spend some time to finish my write-up of 2008.

Happy December 30th world! I hope you all make the last day of this memorable year a good one!

Until tomorrow...

Friday, December 19, 2008

blank stares at blank pages

I've been trying to write a publish-able post for several weeks now. It's not for lack of things to write about, but somehow my posts are not coming out the way I want them to. For example, when I told my best friend about the last one I wrote, her response was "oh, that's kinda depressing, huh?"

On hindsight, it kinda is. In an attempt to be cheerful, I'd listed reasons why Life Doesn't Suck Today. While I was trying to be funny, I can understand how this would be interpreted and am pretty sure nobody wants to read the same old thing about life being tough but focusing on the good things. It's been a theme in my blog pretty much since Day 1. Probably because that attitude is such an ingrained part of my personality.

I like to think I'm a positive person who focuses on the happiness that comes out of life, but to be honest these thoughts are usually in contrast to the stressful things - a silver lining to the black cloud, if you want to re-use an old metaphor.

Maybe it's just that there has been so much bad news lately, in my own personal life and in the world. Maybe the weight of being broke (my substitute for the word "poor" that for some reason doesn't sound as depressing) for 3 years has become more of an issue sub-consciously. I don't want to think about money as often as I do, but it's hard not to when the whole world seems to focused on it. On top of everything, I keep hearing stories from friends and family about these awful things that are going on.

So I try to write something that will help to take it away - even just for a minute or two.

But the pages either fill up with things that would only remind them. Or they stay stubbornly blank, as I flip back and forth between Blogger and other websites, hoping for inspiration.

Ironically, I don't feel unhappy. There are so many things that I am thankful for and love about my life that sometimes I just smile. I have two jobs that I absolutely love, a host of friends and family who are just wonderful, and many, many things to look forward to. I've been out supply teaching several times now, and am slowly inching toward seeing my name on a classroom door one day.

Yet the pages stay blank.

People are writing inspiring Christmas stories, sad tales about lost loved ones, funny anecdotes about things happening in their lives, and still I sit, unmoving.

It feels like there's something inside me to share.

This morning a snowstorm moved into London. The weather is so bad that schools are closed today, giving students and teachers here an extra day of vacation. The cars on the streets are already covered and the wind chimes on the porch are singing as snowy gusts whip past the windows. The weather makes me want to sit in my pajamas with a cup of coffee and a book, but I have one last day of work before my own holiday. A busy day ahead.

So I'll get up and sing in the shower for a little while before pulling on winter clothes and heading out into our snowglobe world. I'll pray for my 94 year-old grandmother who's in a hospital bed, in a sort of limbo now, hoping she'll be comfortable today.

Hundreds of thoughts will push in and out of my mind. Maybe I'll write some of them down later and see what happens.